The Bitter Cup: Ayahuasca – beware the hand that serves you

As ayahuasca tourism explodes into a frenzy of expensive retreats, gringo-shamanism, one-night love-ins, and do-it-yourself thrill-seeking across the planet – a shaman from the Amazon sends a postcard on which he writes, only this….

beware the kiss

of the vine of death.

If you were sick, I mean really – and abandoned on a sandbank in the Amazon -would you trust a chain-smoking motorbike mechanic with a fetish for vomit and a blunt machete who turns up out of nowhere, and says…

“I can be help you if you be come, come with me.

 I will be show you how to love de medicina.”

Deep in the ancient forests of the Amazon, where healing arts have been honed for thousands of years under strict and secret lineage, a shaman of an unknown tribe blows heavy plumes of Marlboro Red from a rickety stool under a banana tree.

His practice is a jungle garden. His ‘consulting room’ is air conditioned by plants, and his library is living all around him; in blossoms, cloud, roots, shoots, animal visitors and continual dialogues with nature who informs his powers of diagnosis and prescription.

The currandero was five days late for our appointment.

DSC_0054When he finally boomed into camp on a supped-up Yamaha, wild curls dancing behind him, he wore a grin so wide it instantly erased my resentment for the long and cranky wait.

This was a meeting I was forced into, really – having had no intention of ever ending up on the ayahuasca scene, let alone in a shaman’s wretched camp.

I came to the jungle assisting a team of American medical volunteers for the CNN-awarded outreach project, Amazon Promise.

It was in deep jungle, far away from Iquitos, that a recurring undiagnosed health problem struck me down again with its presentation of angry circular welts, allergies to everything – fatigue, fever and painful, deforming joints and nightmares. After two years’ under care of Sydney specialists I knew the pathology: disorders of the white cell count, acute and unattributed inflammation factors, evidence of infection, progressive decline with no known cause, and no known cure.

At the peak of the illness in Australia my feet and hands were reduced to livid claws too fragile to bear the weight of even a sheet. I had been placed on large doses of steroids and their related chemical cousins. I was warned I was unlikely to walk again, and told to ‘toughen up’.

My questions of experts from rheumatology, infectious diseases and oncology had not been welcome and I spent long, expensive years in a state of chemical dependency and shame.

So ending up here, on a splintery bench in the rainforest for one more shot at a happy ending did not seem intimidating at all: I was used to feeling confused and cranky.

I was also well aware that here in the jungle, shaman give a medicine so powerful for its effects it is known as the vine of death. That didn’t bother me much. Most of the drugs I’d been taking the last few years were likely to kill me in the end.

What did bother me was that I was here at all.

I had been ‘miraculously’ cured of my symptoms a year ago after a juice-fast my brother recommended from a book. 10 days of beetroot and miso soup brought on a hell of nightmares and weird thinking at the end of which I was pain, welt and arthritis-free enough to climb Kilimanjaro and five other of the world’s highest ranges for charity.

touching the void

But here in deepest, darkest Amazonia, I had plunged back into a hell much worse than the first. It was an ER doctor, a veteran from a Boston hospital, who pleaded with me to find a jungle healer.

“What Western medicine knows about what you have is the equivalent of a bucket’s worth of ocean,” he said.

“Get yourself to a shaman.  Bring back something useful.”

So I set out to find a shaman. In Iquitos. Which is a bit like looking for a raindrop in a river.


They call it zombie-fever. Bleary-eyed ayahuasca tourists; the sick, the lame, the lost and confused who have descended on Iquitos these last ten years in search of healing through the psychotropic plant brew, yage, which they call the medicine, or of a new career in shamanism.

They peddle cures, wisdom, enlightenment and a new world order through the medicina – anybody with access to the plants, a website, a poncho and a customer can promise all this. And make a fortune from it too.

In the States, where ayahuasca is the new decaff soy latte, apparently, they call these self-styled shaman yogahauscas: fakes.

It’s a glib nod at the destruction of the yoga idea at the hands of a pandemic of over-paid and massively under-equipped so-called yoga teachers infecting the planet and using yoga to turn tricks and gain status. But it doesn’t keep the droves away.

20-something white Americans, with no experience at all of a cosmology outside of their middle class suburban roots easily call themselves shaman, yogis and healers these days. And a culture of experience-junkies, health addicts and soul seeking materialists are apparently willing to go along for the ride in their thousands.

Diego Palmer, who reinvented himself as a ‘shamanic healer’ after a failed tech career in the city of Lima, and used the status to lure thousands of tourists into his ‘ayahuasca tribe’ and real estate empire. Then died young. You can read about that here.

In Iquitos, and all over South America these days as the ayahuasca craze widens, deepens and complexifies – it’s almost impossible to know who holds the real keys to using the plant medicines, and who just knows how to make a buck off the craze.

Let alone who might kill you in the process of your quest. Accidentally, or on purpose.

The ayahuasca story is these days rife with rape, deaths, freak outs and bad magic.

In the jungle, the locals mostly shy away, but hordes of gringo healers, jungle side-winders and scouts prey on the tide of sick, sad, curious, depressed, lonely, grieving, soul-seeking incoming, just like most of them were preyed upon when they first set out to taste the medicine.

It’s an ugly scene in Iquitos, and it’s getting ugly everywhere the medicine is being used outside the strict, sacred and ancient protocols of its rightful and only custodians; the shamans of the Amazon. There are deaths and rapes, fakes and all manner of weirdness in the circus that has been conjured up around the promise of ayahuasca.

~ * ~

It was into this nightmare I knowing stumbled. It was into a full-scale freak show, with my life at stake, that I desperately pointed my embarrassingly broken intuitive compass.

Though I was sick and getting sicker, it turned out I was blessed with a sort of radar for spotting the villains who crossed my path – it was easy, really -almost everybody seemed like a conman. Healers spruiking on the streets, medicine men peddling out of tour offices, shamanic yoga quest peddlers whose posters about healing, vision journeys and uniting with the soul of Paccha Mumma for US$3000 a week – they were exactly kind of creepy narcissists and self-made gurus you get bored of after 10 years in yoga. The ones I met first came off sort of mystical and aloof, and soon revealed themselves to be entrepreneurial sociopaths with a vampire up their sleeves. The ones I saw on posters and online were obvious juveniles who couldn’t possibly understand the complexities yet of normal life, let alone of one in crisis.

Screen Shot 2019-11-20 at 7.46.13 pm.png
Take this guy, for example, Levi Banner, of the notorious Yoga Barn in Bali. He landed up here after teaching beginner yoga at a community college in the USA, and found that using the word ‘shamanic’ sold seats on yoga mats – so he did it. But this is neither yoga, nor shamanism, and Levi Banner is a very silly boy making a buck on things he knows nothing about.

I hunted for a healer in this city of dealers for more than a month and come across every breed of charlatan, con man, gringo wannabe, yoga bunny and naysayer as I got sicker and sicker and weaker and more desperate to believe that the legends of great cures and wisdom in the jungle were not a hoax.

The greatest name around Iquitos is Rivas. The Banco.

He is one of the Grandfathers of plant medicine and a very wealthy man, by all accounts. It was exactly due to his Big Reputation that I had struck Rivas off my list.He is a man whose very name holds a gravitas – the music in it. And who is rumoured to weild a hold, a dangerous, deep, intimate hold, on anybody who comes under his influence. In Iquitos, Rivas is feared. And that, as it turns out, is exactly what to look for when first embarking on the quest for a shamanic healer.

Rivas is also famous. He is credited with curing the Dalai Lama of liver problems, and who knows what else he might have offered sages of other lineage on Earth at this wonky time. There is gossip about his genius, his libido, his wealth. But I wasn’t interested in celebrity, I wanted the real thing. Somebody genuine, authentic,remote and exotic. As a result, I ended up with Rosa, who had a lot of stuffed toys, some fascinating stories, and no idea at all what to do with me.

She had plied me with the toxic juice of a rubber plant to help cure me of parasites and was taking me to her jungle camp for further ‘healing’ when, an hour down the Amazon, she apparently had a sudden change of heart. She made a pretty loop in the speedboat, pulled up beside a muddy verge, and shoved me out with no instructions, food or even a goodbye. Then she fled into the jungle steam.

It was not a great start to my ayahuasa healing adventure.But it was no worse really than things had been in general. So I sat there, sweating and inflaming, listening to the water lapping on the bank and the howl of far off monkeys.

About an hour later a tall, slim man and with remarkably white tennis socks turned up in a rickety dinghy. He was an ambassador for the Maestro, the said.

The who?

The Maestro. Vamos!”


And so it was that I found my wretched self before none other than the Banco. Himself.

It was his cigarette smoke that hootchy kootched around me as his sweat wilted the flowers on his Hawaiian shirt.

The Maestro, I knew, was a legend in Peru. He was feared and adored in his region and quietly famous around the world for his power with the plants. He guarded the dignity of the medicina with a ferocious respect, and had openly declared that we are in a time of great war on Earth – over nature, over power, over everything.

He was on the side of the plants, he told me. And an enemy of those who either destroyed their habitat or offended their honour.

The Maestro was credited with cures for aches, pains, indigestion, infertility, snakebite, depression, cancer, arthritis, warts and every complaint of the soul. He was to be admired for his drumming, respected for his temper, and the only man to go to in Iquitos for advice on how to fix both motorbikes and photo copiers.

His patients came from simple villages along the chocolate-coloured  jungle rivers and all the wealthy continents. And occasionally, apparently, stumbled in as orphans – like me.

I was in no condition, really, to be meeting a legend. I could fairly be described at that time as scruffy and irritable.

I offered a scowl and a floppy, swollen handful of hideously deformed fingers by way of introduction. He shoved my hand aside to crush me in a wet and fragrant embrace.

Now! How are you?” he asked in melodic jungle Spanish, pulling up his wooden stool. “Come! Sit here. Relax, smoke de cigarette?

I want to know de  ev-e-ry-theeng!


How you in de heart?

How you in de feelings?

How you in de self?”

And so began a journey you will likely never take either in classic Western medicine, or in the circles hosted by gringo entrepreneurs who have recently got hold of the medicine and market ayahuasca tourism.

You cannot sell this sort of a thing. And you cannot buy it in a pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all ‘retreat’ setting. It does not bless any one night stand flirtation which might involve a ‘dose’ of so-called ayahuasca, and cannot abide even the slightest sniff of hippy thinking, according to the Maestro.


To know ayahuasca – or any other plant – requires that sort of wisdom you cannot serve in a cup.

What true ayahuascaroes cultivate is an ancient process of diagnosis, treatment, care and insight strongly based on relationship – primarily to nature. Many died in keeping this alive during the persecutions of the Conquistadors. Many were exiled as they kept the covenants of their lineage through the carnage of the rubber boom. Do you think the secrets, the wisdom and the protocols of rites this sacred are given away lightly?

Those who were passed the rites have cultivated their intimacy with the plants through long, solo pilgrimages in the jungle dieting specific species, meeting with the blessings and terrors they keep, made secret pacts and sacrifices and willingly entered a theater of war and magic to earn the right to give ceremony.

Many are declaring, now the fad has hit the mainstream, that appropriation or abuse of the ‘medicines’ are acts of war to be avenged.


It takes a lot more than knowledge of the recipes, a few icaros and a splattering of shipibo artwork here and there to suppose the role of currandaro – let alone of shaman.

“These gringos!” says Rivas. “They do not know what the very bad danger they are making.”

A true ayahuasca journey has nothing to do with hanging out with your friends taking communal ‘trips’ into the psychedelic. It has nothing to do with visions. An ayahuasca journey is a quest designed to crush you like  leaf, make your chemistry and fate visible to an initiated healer, who can sing you back to being the right size, shape and recipe for the life that wants to live you. It is conceived by a sort of fate, conducted down a river deeper than it appears, in a craft made of fear and trust.

When you active the bonds of chemistry and destiny that cause ayahuasca to appear before you, you have conjured a genie even the most powerful healers do well to treat with awe.

“She is the wise one,” says Viejo, adoring the little leaves of  stems we are going to cook with.

“She be the beautiful one.

The empress of all the plants, of de everything.

But Ooooo, she be  the terrible, terrible  jealous one.

The vengeful one.

She be not be liking to be fucked with.

Not de one de little tiny beet.

I was diagnosed by the Banco during a long, gruelling, hideously uncomfortable ceremony in which I drank a cup of ayahuasca and he summoned a storm off the jungle, conducted it over our heads in a tempest I was sure would destroy us all, and then played his bongos in a ferociously passionate duet with three hours of wild thunder.

I puked weakly in buckets. Was struck by non-stop rushes of weird cartoons and a neurotic, insane, paranoid voice – my voice – that commentated hysterically, uselessly, loudly, and clearly needed to be  snapped off at the neck.

I was diagnosed with being totally city-fied. Tragically estranged from my own nature, and virtually mad – like most gringos. The Banco looked at me through his ayahuasca-shot chocolate-deep eyes, sang in my face his weird love songs, hit me with his feather swatch and caused me to projectile vomit an alarming torrent of hideous brown water writhing with miniature crocodiles and shards of computer chip all over my self. He looked pleased for a moment, huffed, tossed his hair and went back to his wild percussive duel with the roaring night.

The next day it seemed that my case was treatable and the plans were underway. For my recovery I was apparently to live in the shaman’s camp for as long as it was going to take. “You be live here, in my paradise,” he beamed. “Maybe two weeks, maybe three months.. we be see what the plants, she’s saying”

The camp, far from what you may be ‘shopping’ for now, if you are considering buying a pre-paid, web-marketed, $2000-a-week ‘authentic shaman experience’ in the Amazon – was slightly lacking in mmm… charm.

It was a sort of  ramshackle jungle squat with hungry-looking chickens, a dubious-coloured bog and a slightly worse than average rat issue. My home would be wooden yurt with a moldy single bed and an even more moldy pillow, which were to become my heaven as the healing journey began.

On the second day he told me, after a long diagnostic massage in his plywood temple, examination of my rash and conduct, evocations of deities from the jungle university and lots of poking about;

“You have de poison in de blood and de heart-ache long time.

You have de blockages in de love, and de many hurting not go away.

You must have take out de metals here –  in de teeth.

You must be cleaning de liver and de whole body.

You live here.

With me.

We play de bongos

and talk with de nature.


And so it was.

Every day for 8 weeks and more I slouched about camp in bare feet, listening to Viejo on his bongo, being served jam jars, bottles, bowls or fork-fulls of vile, bitter, weird and unnamable things. I was woken at dawn with potions that sent me back to bed, sweating, fainting, retching. I developed a routine of rising, falling, sparkling then shuddering between ceremonies, visions, hellstorms of grief, confusion and rage, and vomiting in buckets, or preparing to vomit in buckets, and running a constant dialogue of wonder and irritability that my life had come to this.

There was Viejo, greeting the dawn with a Marlboro dangling from his lips and a bongo on his belly, singing like mad to the quivering garden.

There was Viejo, preparing me another concoction of leaf medicine, ordering me wrapped in honey, buried up to my neck in dirt, asking me to sing to the plants, drawing me a picture of the 13 chakras, holding my hand as a jungle dentist drilled the amalgam from my teeth and watching me puke my miserable guts up about three times a week due to one ‘medicine’ or another.

There was no ‘between’ the medicine. There was only the medicine.

And I don’t mean ayahuasca. I mean everything. Everything was medicine: the screaming whistle of the jungle bugs, the twisting heat, the soggy bed, the starlight, dripping off banana leaves, the hideous shit and puke and spit we lovingly poured into Pacha Mumma, who would know what to do with it.

And Viejo… singing as he tenderly stripped down his Yamaha. Viejo, caught in rapture at the tinkling of motorbike parts as they sun-dried on the washing line. Viejo, carving me a harp. Viejo, teaching me to play it as the hallucinations and the nausea washed over me. Viejo, offering me a litre of pure tobacco juice, saying only ‘Drink. All. Vamos!‘.

And there were my own miserable thoughts as I wrestled with an inner dialogue that was variously unhappy with my body, my life, my circumstances, my pain, the heat or my diet of salt-less rice, fish guts, steamed plantain and vile or psychotropic juices.

I was prepared fresh medicines from turmeric, passionfruit leaves, resins and slimy things served in recycled tubs and bottles by the doctor himself, and or by his friendly staff who sat with me while I drank tinDSC_0028ctures, hideous goop and poisons that did things unmentionable by a lady.

The mechanic held my hand when their effects were diabolical.

He enthusiastically inspected buckets-full of my vomit, searching for signs and clues and bubbles which would lead him to either frown deeply or throw out his arms in joyful rapture when he found de something that he was looking to get out of my body.

These triumphs were usually a puddle of froth or an asymmetrical slime blob that I had troweled the depths of my being to wring out in misery over a bucket. They were sometimes fragments of dreams. “Look! Be looking de here! Look! ees thees! the sad! She is coming out from you and she goes home to de Earth! Vamos! Be happy! This is de beauuu-te-full!” he would shout in raptuos joy at my sagging post-vomit being, dangling grey and sweaty out of a hammock somewhere around the ratty garden.

The maestro played the harp when his plants were ruthless.I often begged him to stop because his presence seemed to amplify the agony of the process.

Then he would sit close by, gently de-greasing bits of motor bike.

He never once left me alone. He never once refused my questions. He called me Princessa, and was as concerned with my psychological journey as he was with my physical ones.

After he made me hallucDSC_0039inate, shiver and puke for a full day to get de bad liqueed out of my gall bladder he took me on the back of the bike on a day trip to a spring and restored my joy for life.

When he thought he had squeezed a good puddle of de bad out of me, he had me scrubbed raw with a laundry brush and commercial bleach, then wrapped in mud for a full afternoon before we drank the ayahuasca – which seemed mild in comparison to the other plants.

In the Western model this would all, I know, be considered quite ridiculous. Such a level of personal involvement with a patient would be frowned upon for sure, and if one were to be so indulged – just imagine the cost!

In the tourist model, there’s nobody can give you even half the actual experience.

But in the larger part of the world, and in the oldest medical traditions – the Chinese, Tibetan, the curranderos of the Amazon, the Australian Aborigine – from whom the pharmaceutical industry still takes it cues for synthesising medicines – what’s being offered by doctors and ‘healers’ would be equally unthinkable.

Listening, connecting, sharing the experience are as much part of the cure as the treatments.

In fact, any treatment or remedy that has not been made and blessed by the healer is considered next to useless.

Which is why I warn you ….

Beware who you drink with, where your plants come from, and how much faith you give to the new gringo market in ayahuasca.


The power of the bond between healer and patient is equal to the power of the cure – without trust and confidence, says the maestro, an illness can only be cut at the stem, it cannot be removed at the root.

A cure cannot come from a person who is ‘dabbling’ with the medicines. “Ayahuasca, she is dangersousssss. Oh, very she be danger. When you play with her, like with any strong woman, she can seduce you, she can be suck you into a very very bad world of delusions.”

Likewise, he says, a cure cannot come from a bottle, but only from a living dialogue between the patient and the healer, the healer and the Mother. He spent hours of his day caressing, listening, adoring his gardens, the clouds, birdsong and moonlight.


Since this adventure I have been free of my illness and interested in the doctor/patient relationship which in indigenous medicine is not without its challenges.

When a shaman asks you to drink his deadly medicines he is well aware he causes fear – and it is this he wants to work with. The disorientation and surrender in a patient who is put in a threatening curing situation is the very means by which a shaman finds a gap in the ego wide enough for him to create change.

But not all shamans are equal. And many you will find are not shamans at all – despite their feathers and their pretty websites. So tread this path with care…


95 thoughts on “The Bitter Cup: Ayahuasca – beware the hand that serves you

  1. I am fit for swims in the river, banana pancakes, butterfly whispering and expert handling of an extremely bashed up little motorbike – as per usual, my crazy dancing, non-violet communicator friend.

  2. Amazing adventures. Glad to hear you are better. I met you at the airport en route to the Galapgos and have been reading your postings since.

  3. On the way in. We chatted briefly as we waited in the non-ecuadorian line at the airport. We also met again briefly in Santa Cruz. You told me that you wrote and gave me the website. I guess I’ve been in Ecuador vicariously since.

  4. Girl!!! Have you heard Of Lyme Disease? Borellia Burgdorferi is the main bacteria and it is a very smart spirochete bacteria that cause EVERYTHING you described INCLUDING periods of remission. But don’t take the antibiotics do the dieta with Samento, cat’s claw.

  5. waw amazing, happy you are better now. I recently heard about ayahuasca here in cambodia from a south african man.

  6. Amazing topics you write about, and so beautifully written. With regards to this post, do you have tips on how to find someone trustworthy?

  7. Hello Jade
    A blast from the past, how are you? Where are you? Lets get in touch, I am in Brazil at least once a year for six months. I just read your article, wow!

    There are some things and possibilities I would like to discuss with you. I will have to see that I have your address. Lets get in touch!

  8. Bonjour!
    Devastated to discover you were no longer in the ‘bud.
    Who’s looking after the piranhas?
    Just sent you an email from my new address – hope all is peach-sweat and sticky fingers in your world.

  9. Hola como estas, mi nombre es Nina y aprendo con Viejo Agustin en Argentina y Bolivia. Es muy rico esta experiencia que Tu cuentas y pido a ti permiso para poder compartirla en nuestro espacio para que gente conozca de que se trata la realidad de la curacion. Muchas Gracias a ti por compartir..Nina

  10. Hi again, let me know when you have any tips, I really want to do this but dont know whom to trust. thanks so much

  11. thank you for sharing this great artikel.
    my name is gitika , i am the organiser from viejo agustin in last 9 years in europe and i organise trips to viejo´s camp in peru. i was and i am still- teached and graduated by viejos father don agustin rivas vasquez. i really appreciate your artikel. thank you for making people more aware.

  12. Such an excellent piece – I (and friends, as well) have had unpleasant experiences with “healers” looking to make a fast buck on on ancient and powerful medicine; It is in the best interest of anyone contemplating such a journey to fully investigate the background(s) of the people they are trusting their lives to –
    Google this exact phrase (with quotes) to see an example of an unscrupulous ceremony-seller:

    “Alan Shoemaker, Ayahuasca Medicine House and Amazonian Shamanism”Conference in Iquitos, Peru”

    Link to above:

  13. Hi
    I loved this account of your journey. Would it be possible for me to meet this curandero? I’d really like to meet such a man.

    Thank you


  14. I was enjoying the story, but I feel the story ended quite abruptly as if you got tired of writing.. It seemed to be building up to the first aya experience but no details about the emotional underpinnings of your illness, nor the nature of the aya sessions and what they taught you. I did aya a few times but didn’t have a healing experience -I think due to the fact that I didn’t trust the shaman..will good reason I guess as he was the shaman who tried to cover up a death at his retreat.

  15. Oh wow, Jade. This is the second time in one year that I am sent to your blog (my foggy brain didn’t remember that this is your blog name), after doing random searches on google. last year, it was something Ubud related. Read a great story about RA teacher training and only halfway through realized it was you. Tonight I was doing a google search on Amazon medicinal plants and here you are again. So…hi! What an interesting story!

  16. This is the most beautiful and powerful story I’ve read for a long time. A story of fear and faith, abandonment and resurrection. Write a book. Someone should!

  17. Well, there were certainly parts that were a bit of a mess. I’ve been building up to writing the book for a while now, about this and other things I was desperate/privileged enough to experience – thanks for the encouragement.

  18. Yes, we are in tricky times with this and so many of the ‘healing arts’ – most have fallen into the hands of entrepreneurs, and as classic medicine has been compromised by business and government, people are vulnerable to profiteers – some of them very good at disguising themselves as shaman, yogis etc. I think that those who approach sincerely, who take a real leap, and not a ‘shopping trip’ into the sacred medicines will be guided – but that is not always an easy or linear process. I made bad judgement calls, was desperate, confused and cynical at points. In my case, it was all designed by forces beyond me – but in my case too, i was humble, earnest and came without demands, which was the benefit of being that sick, and also of the lack, at the time, of this massive online marketing and tourism fiasco.

  19. Hi there! Help me understand, you had a amazing journey in the jungle with a amazing healer. But why are you warning people of the gringo-shamanism, if you didn’t have a experience with one of them? A lot of people need the medicine but not everyone can do the trip that you did. Why are you warning people of the medicine if you had such a benefit from it?

  20. Thank you for this story. I’ve spent a month in Iquitos last year searching for the “right” curandero. Pretty discouraging that could be.

  21. I want to thank you for taking the time to write about your experiences during your most troublesome times. It takes a lot of guts and humility to write about something so personal and profound. I have not experienced the Ayahuesca journey, but I have to agree with you on the commercialism that has become a part of the journey. Anyone who decides to take that type of a journey should ONLY do it with someone who is truly there for THEM and their well being, not what they have in their wallet. It really IS a matter of life and death. Ayahuesca and other traditional medicines and customs need to be RESPECTED for the powerful forces they are. Definitely not something to take lightly, ever! I would love to learn more about your journey and your experiences, as they are valuable and insightful and much needed to truly understand what this physical and spiritual journey are all about. I DO wonder if this type of journey is as spiritually healing as it is physical. I believe that both go hand in hand, since life really IS about balance of every kind, in order to be truly healthy in mind, body and spirit. May the spirits guide you and keep you safe in your journey of life.

  22. we treat Lyme in Peru actually 🙂 the herbal protocol is a two year process, anything less and the Lyme will come back. If you find it coming back please check out the Buhner protocol, it is one of the only things that works for Lyme

  23. i think it is important to remember that there are good and bad shaman in the new age as well as traditional circles. just as there are bad and good uns everywhere.

  24. Thank you for sharing your story, it takes great vulnerability to do so. There are so many signs in your story that speak to its authenticity, if one knows what to look for. I’m called to be a healer by mother earth, but being a white woman from suburban Australia, I have no ancestral connections to anyone to teach me. So I carefully look to see who I can find that isn’t touting a modern ‘all wonders of shaman including the rainbow connection’ type thing which is everywhere today.

  25. I’m in the advanced stages of liver disease. I’ve tried everything including a trip to Peru last year to work with Shaman on a 3 day Ayahuasca journey. This journey didn’t go to the core as you say and resulted in leaving roots intact. I steadily got sick again after I returned. Your words touched me “finding a gap in the ego” I know this is true. How can I contact Viejo Banco? Does he work with women?
    Thank you for this article you’ve written

  26. After traveling to Peru last year for a 3 day$2500. Experience with the Ayahuasca. I felt as though I’d been healed. 7 tumors dissolved, but alas, after 7 months i began getting them again with a vengeance. Our trip leader also had heart difficulties and later underwent open heart surgery. For myself I felt that my experience was not thorough. It didn’t go to the roots, as you say. If a crack in the ego was created, it wasn’t pursued.
    I’m looking only for an authentic experience as I am now in advanced stage liver disease and have little time. I’m serious and willing to spend as much time as needed to get to the core of this disease, and remove its roots.
    Can you connect me with Viejo Banco?
    Thank you for this article
    Kathleen Ball

  27. Hello!
    I was reading this story and thinking of a man I met whilst I was doing a raw food training in Bali, the mans name was Dale Millard and he helped me when I fell ill. You wouldn’t happen to be that Dale??
    How wonderful if so!
    I was reading the comments and then came across yours!


  28. Great story but it leaves an impression that only your type of experience is valid. Cautioning people against fraud in Aya tourism is important but dismissing every retreat center and ‘gringo shaman’ as fraudulent and/or inauthentic is not fair. The Aya spirit is reaching out in countless ways around the world and many people do find their way to the right retreat center, in the hands of a well trained Ayahuasquero. We can’t all wonder off in the jungle, hoping that spirit connects us to the right healer. I’ve had life changing experiences in the hands of ‘gringo shamans’ far from Peru. People who had trained with Amazonian cultures willing to share this tradition with serious students who have been called to the work. The call to healing can be an intense, selfless and painful journey regardless of what culture a person comes from.

  29. Hi Dave, thanks for your comment. I understand why you reason this way and agree that this might be what seems a rational conclusion.
    However, we are talking about a process and a cosmology that is not, primarily, rational, and therefore I can’t agree with your deductions. The depth and degree of teaching, support and transformation that is possible in the right hands is not, in my view, teachable.
    It is bigger and more alive than that. Even among those people whose heritage and lineage is deep in the cosmology, psychology and bio-chemistry that saturates and informs plant medicine and ritual, very few have ever been able to earn the title Banco – most are unwilling to make the sacrifice.
    That is why I argue that Westerners don’t belong in this lineage, and are not to be turned to if you really want/need this sort of help.
    We are talking about rites and ritual that have thousands of years of continued cultural history and exchange, tell me of a Westerner who has even a hundred years’ of contact to share?
    Also, these processes have strict protocols and dangerous risks which Westerners and fakers shrug off as extraneous.
    These people are influenced by money, marketing, competition and a pursuit of ‘experience’ which can be good in many ways, but is generally the root cause of the problems they seek to solve, in health and in happiness.
    Clever people have cottoned on to the boom in illness, depression, culture shock and fear, and are cashing in on the vulnerable. One of their logics is that ‘I was touched by a shaman’, or ‘invited by destiny’ to share this (for a profit) – it doesn’t work that way.
    I’d add to this that after more than 20 years exploring the phenomenon of the new ayahuasca industry, and discussion with highly skilled people, both as curranderos and scientists, there is a unanimous sadness, and even contempt for so-called shaman who have not been invited to take this sacrament and do not understand it well.
    The damage they do to those who trust them, and the disrespect they have for the medicine itself is staggering.
    In travels in Peru, Ecuador, Bali, Thailand and America I have never met a gringo who truly knows ayahuasca, but I have met many who wear the cape and the feathers of the true healers, but charge ten times as much.
    When you live among these people you see misery, deceit, greed, vanity and usually property development or empire which gives their game away really.
    Finally, if you read this article you will see that the warning does not come from me, it comes from a Banco of the Amazon – the elders are rising up about this and saying No to the entrepreneurs.

  30. Thank you for sharing ! 🙂

    I was in iquitos in search of that kind of experience but i was taken aback by the massiv marketing. I thought its not possible to have “Real” shaman/ayahuasca experience, I took the plain to lima and continued my traveling without fulfilling that wish, wich was a mainthougt of going there in the first place. Im still wishing for a coincidence or something that brings me in touch with that layer of the world.


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